Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of January 17, 2021

We celebrate the peaceful(ish) transfer of power, along with a good gesture by the NFL.

It turns out some of the lunatics who attacked the U.S. Capitol have at least a modicum of common sense. They sized up their chances against about 15,000 heavily armed National Guard troops in Washington for inauguration security and decided, nah.

The peaceful(ish) transfer of power happened, and America moves on. It has been like that in the 224 years since George Washington voluntarily stepped away.

So, as the line goes from the musical “Hamilton,” can we get back to politics?


Republicans returned to their roots of arguing about the budget deficit and such, although Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio appeared to break from the pack.

“It would send a powerful message to the American people if, on the first day of your presidency, you called on the House and Senate to send you legislation to increase the direct economic impact payments to Americans struggling due to the pandemic from $600 to $2,000,” Rubio wrote to now-President Joe Biden.


Lawmakers are talking about actual issues instead of tweets and lies about election thefts. After the last four years, we may need a minute to process that.

Rick Scott’s plans could hinge on how well Biden’s first term goes. He set himself up as a target by voting against certification of Biden’s electors in Pennsylvania. Corporate America reacted harshly, with many companies announcing policies to stop political donations.

A theory goes, that’s bad for Republicans, particularly those who kept alive the myth of election theft. The GOP must defend 20 of the 34 overall seats up for grabs in 2022. If Biden and the Democrats do well over the next two years, that could be a steep hill for Republicans.

We’ll have time to talk about that and a lot of other political things. If nothing else, Biden’s inauguration restored a welcome sense of semi-normalcy to a process that was a four-year bender.

But this column is about winners and losers in Florida politics. Let’s get to it.


Honorable mention: Scott Rivkees. Florida’s Surgeon General makes the winners circle for his move to curb so-called “vaccine tourism.”

Rivkees directed COVID-19 vaccine providers to ensure recipients are either full-time Florida residents or seasonal residents.

He took this action following reports of people traveling to Florida to get the vaccine and then heading back home. Snowbirds can receive the shots because, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, they own homes here and pay taxes.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Clean air. The saying goes, if you can’t kick someone when they’re down, when can you kick ’em?

With that in mind, as we said goodbye (or good riddance) to the Trump administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia gave it one more boot in the backside.

In a unanimous ruling, the Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump repealed the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan because, you know, coal was coming back in a big way.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried greeted the news with enthusiasm.

For four years, the Trump Administration has pursued a deregulation spree that has damaged our environment, worsened climate change, and risked public health — and on the President’s last day in office, that anti-environment binge has finally ended,” Fried said.

“Our climate is interconnected, and no state is more vulnerable to climate change than Florida. Our approaches to addressing the climate crisis must also be interconnected, including greenhouse gases from power plants. I thank the federal court for ruling that climate pollution from power plants can be appropriately limited while encouraging American energy independence.”

The biggest winner: Health care workers and the Super Bowl. Everyone knows that front-line health care workers are heroes in the battle against COVID-19. We also know that they could use a break.

Faced with a significantly reduced seating capacity for the Super Bowl at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the National Football League decided to give them just that.

The NFL announced it would invite about 7,500 of those COVID-19 warriors to enjoy the battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 7. Each of the 32 NFL teams will select workers from their cities to attend, but most invitees will come from the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida.

Each attendee must have received both vaccinations against the virus. After consulting with the CDC, the Florida Department of Health, and area hospitals and health care systems, the league made the gesture.

“These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

“We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings.”


Dishonorable mention: Ross Spano. The former Republican U.S. Rep. from Florida’s 15th Congressional District may be out of power, but he’s still in the headlines.

William March of the Tampa Bay Times reported Spano’s campaign finished 2020 with $128,716 in campaign debt. Financial filings show Spano owes $59,500, to himself and $46,441 is in legal fees.

Spano lost the GOP primary last August to Lakeland’s Scott Franklin, after he was dogged by controversy over his 2018 campaign’s finances. Spano faced investigations by the Federal Elections Commission and the U.S. Justice Department for violations of campaign finance law.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rebekah Jones. It wasn’t a good week for the one-time Florida data scientist.

First, she turned herself in to Florida police after an arrest warrant accused her of illegally accessing the state Department of Health computer system.

That’s a third-degree felony.

The DOH fired her last year for what it called insubordination. Jones said she was fired because she wouldn’t fudge the virus numbers to make it look better than it was.

Then, Jones announced she has COVID-19.

“Once I’m lucid again, remind me to thank everyone for their amazing support,” she said. “COVID is not a joke. I’ve never been so sick in my life.”

The biggest loser: Anthony Sabatini. Speaking of people who make headlines for the wrong reason, this Central Florida state Rep. is at it again. He wants to rename U.S. Highway 27 in Florida the President Donald J. Trump Highway.

Fittingly, he announced the gambit on Twitter.

This legislative session, I will be sponsoring an amendment to rename U.S. Highway 27 as the President Donald J. Trump Highway. Looking forward to working on this important designation honoring one of the greatest Presidents in American History,” he tweeted.

Sabatini told the Orlando Sentinel he chose U.S. 27 because it runs through his home district in Lake County. It also runs from Miami to the Florida-Georgia border, but that’s another matter.

Trump is, undeniably, the best U.S. President EVER at being impeached. Even though he’s out of office now, he faces a Senate trial for inciting insurrection related to the U.S. Capitol attack.

What are some of Trump’s other (cough) accomplishments?

He helped tear the country apart for months with discredited charges of voter fraud. Trump tried to strong-arm the Georgia Secretary of State into “finding” more than 11,000 votes after the election.

He refused to take basic safety precautions like wearing masks to protect against a pandemic that now has killed more than 400,000 Americans. Come to think of it, Sabatini was good at that, too. He lost multiple court cases challenging mask mandates in Florida.

It also wouldn’t be a good look to name a major Florida thoroughfare for the only U.S. President convicted in a Senate trial. That hasn’t happened yet, of course, but don’t rule it out.

To recap: Floridians are dying at a too-rapid rate, and Sabatini wants to honor the incompetence of the man who bears at least some responsibility for that.

Maybe he’s just a jerk.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Trump Supporter Forever

    January 24, 2021 at 8:29 am

    Hey Joe your 45 year lying career is done as far as I’m concerned! Turning your back on America and half of the people who believe in the Constitution makes you the scum of the scum!!

  • Beautiful

    January 24, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    Hey Trump supporter you Got to be a SPECIAL kind of stupid to imply that some one is a sum bag for speaking the truth about that orange ass bigoted racist and liar and people like you want to name a highway after him he incited Insurrection tried at a coupe and was planning martial law firing people that didn’t agree with his mental psychopath antics it’s hard everyday I have to pray for people like you all you are a sick and there’s not enough psychiatrist to help people that support Donald Trump

  • Meredith Shaw

    January 24, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your synopsis. I’m sorry you have to deal with lunatics like the one who commented first.

  • SH

    January 29, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    “Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rebekah Jones. ” Sure, standing up for life saving data integrity is such a loser move. This is the dumbest take ever.

Comments are closed.


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